I painted a room the other day. Brightened it up. The previous inhabitant used the room as his personal home theater. He painted the walls a hasty, dark purple (eggplant?) color, ostensibly to absorb and block rather than reflect the ambient light. Along with heavy shades on all the windows, the darkness of the room maximized the draw of and focus on the lights and sounds emanating from his entertainment shrine. Maybe less a shrine than an altar. It certainly involved sacrifice. Either way, the room clearly served as a place of worship to the gods of the commoditized, commercial entertainment industry. Until we painted it, and in spite of its large window area and south-facing position, the room seemed so dark that I called it “the dungeon.” By painting it, we restored its warm, welcoming functionality and returned the space to the land of the living present.
While painting the final coat around the windows, my partner noticed a ladybug crawling on the window.
“it needs to go outside,” she said.
“it’s just hibernating,” i replied.
“no, it’s not,” she said. “it’s moving.”
“of course it’s moving — it’s like 95 degrees in here!” (i had stoked the fire once already that morning on top of a fairly warm day to create a warm, fast-drying painting environment, since we had limited time for the second coat of paint).
a few minutes later, in between paint refills, i asked, “did you take the ladybug outside?”
“no, i didn’t, i thought you were going to,” she said.
i put down my paint roller and walked over to the window, looking for the ladybug. it rested in stillness on the sill, and refused to climb onto my finger. having gone through such scenarios before, i fetched a piece of paper, and bugged the beetle until it felt bothered enough to start scurrying again. It climbed onto the paper readily and immediately came to rest.
Earlier, while stoking the fire, I noticed another beetlebug of a different sort on a piece of wood. A bug of a type unfamiliar to me, rounded in body and spritely in movement. I figure it had enough trauma today already by virtue of hanging out inside a piece of wood I split open with the maul. Cutting to the chase, I set up the same paper platform I gave the ladybug and used my hand to get the second bug moving. It moved immediately. But it didn’t intend to run away. Instead, it hopped onto a piece of kindling and buried itself deeper inside the wood underneath the bark.
I took the paper with the ladybug outside and set the paper down in some dirt and walked away. Plenty of ladybugs make their way inside my house, only to die there for want of food and water. It had a better chance of finding food and shelter anywhere outside.
Later, I stoked the fire again, using the kindling that held the bug somewhere in its core. I thought of that bug’s traumatic experience, first, from my rending its home in two with a metallic wedge in flash of weighted momentum approaching terminal velocity. I thought of its attempt to escape from me, deeper into the wood. Its refusal to leave the wood. I thought of these things as I watched the wood burn. I thought of the bug feeling the steady temperature increase, first from outside to inside, then from ambient room to firebox. Although it probably died from something else, I wondered which spark and pop represented the explosion of the boiling liquid from inside the shell of its body.
I assume every piece of wood I use to heat my home teems with levels of life that I cannot touch, see or even understand. I wonder how many bugs on average I burn to heat my house every year. I thank the wood — and the trees the wood comes from — for the heat, every time I start a burn. But I burn more than wood. I experience trees and bugs as people. I burn people inside and outside my body to stay warm, and (among other conversations) I thank those people for the warmth they give. Some people might consider this sadistic. I consider it honest: Every day, countless others die so that I can live. Life works in no other way, and only death exempts us from this rule. One of my greatest hopes in death? That my body feeds wild and free spirits in turn. Until then, I try to live in a way worthy of such a death, worthy of the wild lives that sacrifice themselves to sustain me one more day.
I wonder to what extent either bug somehow represents my behavior in life. Represents indominatable wildness or domesticated passivity. Do we live to our fullest capacity, taking risks well-outside our comfort zones to pursue our passions toward a life worth living? Or do we seek to burrow more deeply inside the womb of comfort? Do we have the wisdom and courage from life well-lived to recognize when a hand seeks to help and support us, and act accordingly? Or do we, so traumatized already, run blind and senseless from every helping hand as a potential source of trauma straight into the firepit of trauma itself? Do we have the wisdom and courage to stay and fight for our homes when others conspire to appropriate, colonize, and destroy? Or do we run blind and senseless from every aggression, living a reactive life on the run from fear? When we run from fear in search of peace, we bring our fear with us and destroy any peace we actually encounter.
We cannot avoid death. When it wants us, it will have us, however it wants. Quick or slow. Painless or agonizing. It may sneak upon us and rest at our side with a gentle whisper, or it may hunt us and rip out our throats. Until then, trauma will have its way with us throughout our lives. I don’t fault either bug for its behavior. I have seen my life through theirs. I have seen myself towering, nine miles tall, over them. I have felt their willingness to fight and live in a world bent to the whims of psychopathic and narcissistic giants incapable of care, love and respect. I incorporate the lives and behaviors of these bugs as mentors, guideposts and guardians of my own. They remind me of my giant status, that I need not adopt the narcissism dominating and poisoning my species at the moment. I ready myself for when either helping hand or fire comes for me and my home: Will I act with with wisdom in acceptance of past and future trauma, and courage in the face of fear?